AT&T CEO John Stankey moved to reassure investors over a proposed wholesale fibre JV with private equity company BlackRock, noting the deal would be a starting point in expanding the operator’s reach and pledging clarity over the business model within 18 months of launch.

During AT&T’s Q4 2022 earnings call, Stankey acknowledged the proposed Gigapower JV is a model the operator’s investors are unfamiliar with, but asserted the approach would lead the company into new territory.

AT&T initially aims to deliver fibre to 1.5 million customer locations outside its legacy footprint, a move Stankey said would require investment of more than $1 billion.

“We’ve set up this first tranche to be able to come back to you over the course of 18 months, and give you information that raises your confidence.”

Stankey explained that once the JV is finalised, it will give AT&T long-term financial flexibility, and a vehicle to scale and move faster when needed.

“This innovative risk-sharing collaboration will allow us to prove out the viability of a different investment thesis,” he stated.

Stankey stated 2022 marked the most profitable year ever for AT&T’s mobility business, with the unit generating revenue of $21.5 billion in Q4 compared with $21.1 billion in the same period of 2021.

Service revenue increased 5.2 per cent year-on-year to $15.4 billion.

AT&T recorded 656,000 post-paid phone net additions during the quarter, though prepaid users declined by 13,000.

Stankey highlighted additions of 7.5 million post-paid phone users over the past ten quarters as AT&T’s best consecutive run of mobile growth in more than a decade.

The operator’s mid-band 5G service covered 150 million people at end-2022, with Stankey noting 25 per cent of its traffic runs on the frequency in those areas.

Jenifer Robertson, EVP and GM for mass markets at AT&T Communications, later told journalists the operator was preparing to launch a new fixed wireless access broadband service this year, highlighting potential in areas where it is moving away from copper-based services.

The operator recorded a net loss attributable to shareholders of $23.5 billion compared with a $5 billion profit in Q4 2021, partly attributed to asset impairment and abandonment charges of $26.8 billion.

Revenue was flat at $31.3 billion.